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Some New Yorkers Are Wondering (Again) Why Their Tap Water Tastes Like Mildew

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In a repeat occurrence of last year, some New Yorkers are detecting a distinctly different taste in their tap water.

“I noticed it tasted a little bit like dirt and a little metallic, almost like a penny,” Nysa, an East Harlem resident told Gothamist. The 18-year-old said she regularly drinks city tap water, which is distributed to nearly nine million people and has won all kinds of accolades, including being called the champagne of tap water. She noticed the change in flavor about a week ago. On Monday, she posted a tweet about it.

She was not the only one to notice that something seemed off. Some people on the Upper West Side described their tap water as having the taste of mildew.

Several Gothamist readers also noticed the difference, with one tipster describing the taste as moldy and saying that she had resorted to buying bottled water.

Overall, 311 complaints about tap water quality have spiked. According to the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, there were 22 reports on Monday, compared to a typical day, when the agency receives about five. The city’s tap water is tested more than 650,000 times a year to ensure safety and quality.

All of the complaints have been from Manhattan or the Bronx, which receive drinking water from a mix of three upstate reservoir systems: Croton, Catskill and Delaware. A small slice of Queens that includes Dutch Kills also gets this concoction.

In contrast, Brooklyn, Staten Island, most of Queens, and some small sections of the Bronx, are delivered a mix from the Catskill and Delaware reservoirs.

Because of geological differences between these areas, the different water sources can have their own distinct tastes. All of the water that flows from upstate first goes to treatment facilities before reaching residential and commercial faucets.

In an email, DEP spokesman Edward Timbers said, “As the seasons change in the City’s upstate watershed this can affect the natural mixing of water within the City’s reservoirs and DEP scientists are following this closely and making operational adjustments to ensure that the best possible water is being delivered to the 8.6 million residents of the city.”

He added: “The percentage of water coming from any one of the City’s 19 reservoirs changes on a day-to–day and hour-to-hour basis.” [See update below.]

Around the same time last year, roughly 185 residents from Manhattan and 89 from the Bronx made similar water quality complaints. At the time, the DEP told Gothamist/WNYC that the change in smell and taste could be traced back to increased run-off from recent rains.

“When we get heavy rains, there’s run-off from the watershed lands into the reservoir,” said DEP Commissioner Vincent Sapienza. “And that’s most likely the reason for that earthy taste.”

The DEP maintained that the water was completely safe to drink.

But the agency also revealed at the time that it had recently increased the proportion of water from the Croton reservoirs in order to accommodate repairs to the Catskill Aqueduct, leading elected officials to complain that they and their constituents had not been notified.

In the wake of that controversy, the DEP temporarily shut water from the Croton reservoirs.

Gothamist will update this story as it learns more details.

UPDATE: The DEP has told Gothamist that the Catskill Aqueduct was taken out of service in mid-October for 10 weeks of maintenance.





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